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Amberly McAteer takes a break from her 5K run in Toronto's High Park, March 27, 2011 (Wayne McAteer for the Globe and Mail)
Amberly McAteer takes a break from her 5K run in Toronto's High Park, March 27, 2011 (Wayne McAteer for the Globe and Mail)

Winning the mind game: Can I run farther than I think? Add to ...

"One critical aspect missing from your training program," writes one concerned (and brutally honest) reader, "is suck it up and get 'er done."

I am, dear reader, attempting to heed your advice. But there is a voice in my head that grows louder by the kilometre. It starts as a whisper at about 20 minutes, and by the one-hour mark, it crescendos to a scream. "Stop now, take a breather. Grab a latte and relax, you've gone far enough."

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I've always subscribed to the idea of listening to my body. When I'm hungry, I eat, and when I'm tired, I sleep (both of which I'm doing a lot more of these days, now that I'm training five times a week for at least an hour a day.)

The thing is, I do feel like I'm pushing myself more than I ever have. Just the other day I jogged Toronto's Belt Line, a long, peaceful trail that slices the north part of the city, and I was so infatuated with the sunny spring day and my surroundings that before I knew it, I'd tracked 6K in 52 minutes. I know it doesn't sound like much to distance runners, but it was a shining achievement for me.

But as soon as I realized how far I'd gone, I caved to that voice and I made a beeline for Starbucks.

Last week, a 400-lb. sumo wrestler in L.A. set a world record for the heaviest person ever to complete a marathon - albeit in 9 hours, 48 minutes. You'd think his body would have commanded he stop before the finish line - but he obviously pushed past it. Why can't I?

Clearly, I needed professional help: Should I listen to that voice in my head, or can I run farther than I think?

Turns out, I can - and I should.

At Absolute Endurance fitness centre in Toronto, owner (and avid marathoner, Iron Man enthusiast and fitness guru) Alan Chud repeatedly pricks my finger as I run on the treadmill. He's testing the lactic acid levels in my blood, to find out how far and how fast I'm actually capable of running.

After studying my chart, he tells me something that is still blowing my mind.

"Physiologically, you've really got the body of an endurance runner."

Stunned, I ask him to elaborate.

My "aerobic zone," the pace at which runners can comfortably stay for an incredibly long time, is roughly the four mile/hour mark on the treadmill. I can, he says, theoretically "go on forever" at this heart rate - as long as I'm refuelling along the way.

The voice that tells me I need to hit the showers after 30 minutes, Mr. Chud says, isn't my body telling me to quit. It's the result of being unprepared, lazy and bored. Ouch.

He admits he hears that creeping voice every now and then - but he drowns it out by forgetting about all the data - his pace, calories burned, heart rate, and mileage. He doesn't think about how far he's gone or how much trail he still has left.

The voice dies when he surrounds himself in what he calls a here-and-now metaphorical cylinder, hearing his feet hit the ground and legitimately enjoying the moment.

Now that I know I'm physically capable of much more, I hope to follow in his footsteps.

Follow my training progress here, and pick your training program here.

Follow on Twitter: @amberlym

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